Although it is the last retailer at the former Rolling Acres mall, the JCPenney Outlet Store is thriving, store officials say.
There have been rumors and perceptions that the chain went out of business or the store has closed, store officials said.
Last fall, JCPenney sold the 15 outlet stores to SB Capital Group LLC, an affiliate of retailer Schottenstein in Columbus. The stores still bear the name of JCPenney Outlets, but also do business as JC’s 5 Star Outlet and will be transitioning to that name next spring, said Glen Gammons, chief executive officer of JC’s 5 Star Outlet.
It’s still business as usual at the outlet stores, which primarily get closeout inventory from JCPenney and which still accept the JCPenney charge card, Gammons said.
The changeover in ownership should have been transparent to shoppers, he said.
At the Romig Road outlet store on Friday, shoppers were looking for deals.
Thelma Fort of Cuyahoga Falls comes at least once a week.
“You never know what you’re going to find,” said Fort, shopping with her 22-month-old great-grandson, Keyon Phelps. She had a Graco infant/toddler car seat for $39.99 in her cart.
“I got a car seat today and last week I bought a gazebo and chairs. Today, I’m going to buy a big [outdoor] swing,” Fort said.
Fort said she can’t remember how long she’s been shopping at the JCPenney Outlet, but she still makes the weekly trek even though the mall closed in 2008 and there’s not much other traditional retail nearby.
“It’s worth the trip,” she said.
The Akron store is profitable and performs around the middle of the pack among the 15 stores, Gammons said in a phone interview. Gammons, who worked for JCPenney for 40 years, including 11 as the head of the JCPenney Outlet Stores, is currently based in Texas, but is moving with the corporate headquarters to Columbus this summer.
Nationwide, the chain has had the challenge of letting customers know its stores didn’t close with the sale last fall. In Akron, there’s the additional challenge of being attached to a defunct mall.
“You go there [to the store] and you shake your head and ask, ‘How do you make that store work?’ ” Gammons acknowledged. “Well, we do.”
The store can continue to do well, despite the lack of other stores around, he said.
“We’ve become a destination shopping place for bargains,” said Gammons, who added that he would welcome a large discounter like Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club nearby, but acknowledged the chances are slim.
Customers are loyal, as are the longtime staff, all of whom retained their jobs in the transition. There are about 1,600 employees companywide and 100 at Rolling Acres.
“One of the assets are the customers and associates, and as long as we can keep a base business, we’ll stay there. If that falls, we’ll have to leave. Right now, that’s not in our plans,” he said. “Our challenge is to communicate that to people outside of customers.”
The company has plans to grow next year, with two to four stores, Gammons said.
Gammons said he wants the outlets within 300 to 500 miles of the Columbus headquarters, so Akron is a possibility.
The stores will also change their signs from JCPenney Outlet to JC’s 5 Star Outlet next spring.
When there are special sales, customers line up outside for limited goods, said Chivalya Montgomery, who transferred from Louisville, Ky., four months ago to take over as manager.
Most customers shop for themselves, but sometimes buy in quantities for churches or businesses.
On Friday afternoon, Traci Mayer of Medina bought 63 boxes of Cuisinart mini food processors ($19.99), eight-piece kitchen/baking bowls ($14.99) and kitchen utensil sets ($14.99).
Mayer, who owns an online resale business she declined to name, said she normally comes to the store to shop for herself, but sometimes buys for her business.
“There’s good bargains,” she said. The products she bought will likely sell for between $30 and $40 online, she said.